Thursday, June 26, 2008

Improving Industrial Farm Animal Production

Current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) practices have several problems that need to be fixed according to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. First, IFAP practices put public health at risk. By having so many animals in close quarters, the opportunity for spreading disease is great. Farmers spend more time in closer contact with the animals, increasing the likelihood that disease will spread across species. IFAP animals are often fed antibiotics in an attempt to ward off disease, and this creates a golden opportunity for bacteria and other disease-causing organisms to become antibiotic-resistant as well.

Another problem the Pew Commission identifies is the IFAP’s impacts on the environment. For example, large amounts of animal waste accumulate at these facilities. While in theory, this waste could be used for fertilizer, there is too much waste, concentrated in too small of an area for it to be useful. When this waste is used as fertilizer, it allows nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, hormones, and heavy metals to be washed into waterways. All of these chemicals can contaminate water. The excess nutrients promote algal blooms that use up all the oxygen in the water, causing sea life to leave or suffocate to death. Furthermore, these animal confinements are bad for the environment because of the release of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Finally, the Pew Commission recommends the IFAP practices need to change because of the unjust treatment of animals. While we do our best to protect livestock from predation and disease, this does not justify intensive confinement of animals (gestation crates for pigs or battery cages for hens). They should be allowed to move around and proceed with natural behaviors. This helps keep distress at a minimum.

After identifying these problems, the Pew Commission came up with these recommendations to help the IFAPs improve:
1. Ban the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animal production to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance to medically important antibiotics and other microbials.
2. Implement a disease monitoring program for food animals to allow 48-hour trace-back of those animals through aspects of their production in a national database.
3. Implement a new system to deal with farm waste to protect Americans from the adverse environmental and human health hazards of improperly handled IFAP waste.
4. Phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to reduce the risk of IFAP to public health and improve animal wellbeing (i.e., gestation crates and battery cages).
5. Federal and state laws need to be amended and enforced to provide a level playing field for producers when entering contracts with integrators.
6. Increase funding for, expand, and reform, animal agriculture research.

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